When police and paramedics entered Carl Williams’ Hopewell apartment after a neighbor alerted authorities, they observed a gruesome scene: Williams, half-naked, was sitting next to the corpse of his girlfriend and he repeatedly was beating her body with a closed fist.
As the 61-year-old Williams was delivering the blows, the first-responders thought they heard him say that he was “rebuking the devil.”
Authorities would later determine that the victim, Kristie McPherson, 49, had died hours, if not days, earlier.
She had visible injuries that covered much of her body. They included severe bruises, cuts and ligature marks around her neck, where a shoe-string or drawstring was found draped. A medical examiner discovered 17 distinct rib fractures, fractured vertebrae and numerous blunt-force trauma injuries to her head, neck and torso.
“The manner in which she died was explicitly horrific,” said Hopewell Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Fierro Jr.
The crime scene was spread throughout the interior of Williams’ residence in the 400 block of East Broadway. The apartment was in complete disarray, there was damage to the walls, and every surface inside the bathroom was covered in blood, Fierro said.
“Officer J. Adams described the scene as the worst he’d seen in his 10 years in law enforcement,” Fierro said.
Williams that day was found incoherent and mumbling to himself. He resisted being detained, kicking and hitting at officers, which forced them to use a Taser to get him under control. He was taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation and psychiatric inpatient treatment.
Nearly two weeks after being stabilized, police charged Williams with first-degree murder, strangulation and willfully defiling a corpse.
On Wednesday, more than a year after the Sept. 10, 2019, killing, Hopewell Circuit Judge Allan Sharrett found Williams — who has a documented history of mental illness — not guilty by reason of insanity of committing any of the crimes for which he was charged.
Two clinical psychologists — one each for the prosecution and defense — evaluated the defendant and submitted written opinions that he was suffering from a psychotic mental disorder when he killed his girlfriend, and therefore lacked the psychological capacity to comprehend the true nature of his actions.
The judge remanded Williams to the custody of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services for further evaluation. A hearing was set for March 10 to determine what services he will received and where he will be placed.
According to Williams’ psychological evaluation prepared by Dr. Evan Nelson, Williams met McPherson in early 2019 at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and they began living together a few months before she was killed. Williams told Nelson that he loved McPherson, bought her a diamond ring and intended to marry her.
But the relationship soured after Williams began to experience delusions about McPherson, and learned that she had a brief sexual encounter with another man. That led to Williams kicking her out of his apartment.
Then early on the morning of Sept. 8, 2019, Williams went to a neighbor’s apartment where McPherson was staying, and she went with Williams back to his apartment. That was the last time she was seen alive.
For a few days after that, a neighbor heard yelling inside Williams’ residence, which compelled her to call police to conduct a welfare check. That’s when officers, after forcing entry, found Williams with McPherson’s body.
Nelson noted that the crime scene pointed to other oddities that suggested irrationality. A heavy porcelain doll was found inside the microwave oven, and a chair had been moved from its usual place and turned to face McPherson’s body. Williams disclosed he had been watching her.
At the time of the killing, Williams for the most part had stopped taking medications prescribed to manage his psychosis because he did not like their side effects, Nelson wrote in his report.
Williams previously had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bi-polar type, and had undergone at least seven earlier admissions to Central State Hospital, as well as to other facilities, the report said.
“As best could be told, Mr. Williams was psychotic and attacked the victim for a reason that made sense to him but was elusive and probably irrational to the observer,” Nelson said of the defendant, who previously had only minor brushes with the law for theft, property damage and possession of marijuana. “It seems he had irrational ideas that she was a devil, or a demon was in her that needed to come out.”
“He was so mentally ill that he could not recognize Ms. McPherson was dead; he was still beating the body when the police came,” Nelson added. “Obviously, whatever irrational idea provoked the murder, Mr. Williams believed it so strongly that he was willing to engage in the out-of-character action of beating to death a woman whom he professed to love.”